Running back Charron Thomas carried Palo Verde during the regular season, so it was little surprise that he was the team’s star Friday night.
Thomas rushed 23 times for 203 yards and two touchdowns to lead the visiting Panthers past Las Vegas 41-23 in the Mountain Region quarterfinals.
The Panthers (8-3) struggled with mistakes in the first two quarters, but erupted in the second half for a convincing victory.
“Our mentality all season has been that you’ve got to play four quarters,” said Thomas, who scored his TDs in the second half. “We wanted to do that, so we came in and did it in the second half. We did what we needed to do to get the win.”
Palo Verde coach Joe Aznarez said his team’s ability to open the game with a nine-play, 62-yard scoring drive was a key.
“We felt like if we could play with a lead, our kids could have some confidence,” Aznarez said. “We knew it was win or go home, and that’s what the playoffs are all about.”
The Panthers capped that opening drive with a 5-yard TD run by quarterback Paul Myro. The Wildcats (9-2) rallied in the second quarter, but their 15-play, 80-yard drive fizzled at the Palo Verde 16-yard line and they settled for a 32-yard Brian Batres field goal to make the score 7-3.
Two big runs by Thomas allowed Palo Verde to take a 14-3 halftime lead after Myro hit Kade Madsen for a 3-yard TD with 13 seconds remaining.
Aznarez said he thought the lead could have been bigger.
“We had some penalties that hurt us in the first half, but we just stuck to our game plan,” he said.
Las Vegas cut the deficit to 14-9 early in the third quarter on a 5-yard pass from Ja’Shawn Scroggins to Dalten Silet, but momentum turned when the Wildcats fumbled deep in Palo Verde territory later in the quarter. The Panthers blew the game open moments later on a 67-yard pass from Myro to Madsen to take a 24-9 lead.
“That was a big swing,” Aznarez said. “They were driving, we forced a turnover and then we hit them with a big play.”
Zach Moore added two second-half field goals for Palo Verde, and Thomas had two 7-yard TD runs in the fourth quarter.
Myro completed 3 of 8 passes for 89 yards and two TDs, and Dacen Phister rushed for 66 yards on 10 carries.
The Wildcats, who scored on a pass from Scroggins to Miles Davis and a kick return by Devyn Perkins in the fourth quarter, got 59 yards on 13 carries by Jay Curtis. Scroggins completed 12 of 24 passes for 155 yards.